Rhinoceros Horn Sutra

The Rhinoceros Sutra (Pāli: Khaggavisāna-sutta; Sanskrit: Khaḍgaviṣāṇa Gāthā; Gāndhārī: Khargaviṣana-sutra) is a very early Buddhist text advocating the merit of solitary asceticism for pursuing enlightenment (as opposed to practicing as a householder or in a community of monks or nuns).


The Rhinoceros Sutra has long been identified, along with the Aṭṭhakavagga and Pārāyanavagga as one of the earliest texts found in the Pali Canon. (Salomon, pp. 15-16) This identification has been reinforced by the discovery of a version in the Gandharan Buddhist Texts, the oldest Buddhist (and, indeed, Indian) manuscripts extant. It also exists in a Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit version. The early date for the text along with its rather unusual (within community-oriented Buddhism) approach to monastic life have led some scholars to suggest that it represents a holdover from a very early stage of Buddhism.


The sutra, which consists of a series of verses which discuss both the perils of community life and the benefits of solitude, and almost all of which end with the admonition that seekers should wander alone like rhinoceros. The verses are somewhat variable between versions, as is the ordering of verses, suggesting a rich oral tradition that diverged regionally or by sect before being written down.

Association with pratyekabuddhas

Traditional commentaries on the text have unanimously associated the Rhinoceros Sutra with the Buddhist tradition of pratyekabuddhas. (Salomon, p. 10, 13)

In the 4th century Mahāyāna abhidharma work Abhidharmasamuccaya, Asaṅga describes followers of the Pratyekabuddha Vehicle (Skt. pratyekabuddhayanika) as those who dwell alone like the horn of a rhinoceros, or as a solitary conquerors (Skt. pratyekajina) living in a small group.[1] Here they are characterized as utilizing the same canon of texts as the śrāvakas, the Śrāvaka Piṭaka, but having a different set of teachings, the Pratyekabuddha Dharma.[2]

Naming controversy

There is an ongoing dispute over whether the title, "sword-horn" sutra, is to be taken as a tatpuruṣa compound (a sword which is a horn) or as a bahuvrīhi compound (one who has a sword as a horn). In the former case, the title should be rendered "The Rhinoceros-Horn Sutra"; in the latter case, it should be rendered, "The Rhinoceros Sutra." There is textual evidence to support either interpretation. (Salomon, pp. 11-12)

In general, the Mahāyāna traditions in India took the title to refer to the image of an Indian rhinoceros, which is a solitary animal. The Theravāda tradition tended toward the "rhinoceros horn" interpretation, but there is some variance between Theravāda commentators, with some referring to the image of a rhinoceros rather than a rhinoceros horn. (Salomon, p. 13)

Location in Buddhist canons

In the Pali Suttapitaka, this sutta is the third sutta in the Khuddaka Nikaya's Sutta Nipata's first chapter (Uragavagga, or the "Snake Chapter," named after the chapter's first sutta), and thus can be referenced in the Pali canon as "Sn 1.3." For a complete translation of the Pali text, see Thanissaro (1997).

See also



  • Salomon, Richard. A Gāndhārī Version of the Rhinoceros Sutra: British Library Kharoṣṭhi Fragment 5B Univ. of Washington Press: Seattle and London, 2000
  • Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1997). Sutta Nipata I.3, Khaggavisana Sutta: A Rhinoceros Horn. Available at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/canon/sutta/khuddaka/suttanipata/snp1-03.html

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.